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'Wearable temples' could be the next big thing

May 19. 2016
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By The Nation

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Having astonished the world last year by dressing up its Miss Universe contender as a tuk-tuk, Thailand might be sending an even more amazing outfit to this summer's Mrs Universe pageant - the senior edition of the better-known beauty competition.

Not content to rest on the laurels earned when Aniporn Chalermburanawong appeared in the 2015 Miss Universe contest’s “national costume” segment as the front end of a tuk-tuk (complete with some terrific headlights), local organisers plan to dress Kanthicha “Yui” Chimsiri as a pagoda. Needless to say, not everyone likes the idea.

The Mrs Universe pageant, which is for married women, takes place from August 29 to September 6 in Guangzhou, China.

The costume is called Suwan Chedi, meaning “golden pagoda”. The elaborate headdress replicates the Phra Sri Rattana Chedi, one of the glittering spires at Wat Phra Kaew, which is among the country’s best-known cultural attractions. Yui will also be wearing a tapering, spherical bodice in the iconic shape of the Trglagka pagoda and a completely gilded gown adorned with classical motifs from Buddhist art and architecture.

Costing a reasonable Bt50,000 to create, the costume is meant to promote Thai culture and tourism, but it’s got the Culture Ministry sputtering in disbelief. Deputy Permanent Secretary Vimolluck Chuchoti promptly condemned it as being wholly unholy.

“Using Buddhist motifs or symbols on beauty-pageant costumes is improper, even offensive,” Vimolluck told Nation TV. “The intention might be good, but taking something so highly respected among Buddhists and putting it on a costume is offensive. This pagoda contains the Lord Buddha’s relics, and that makes it very sacred.

“I would like to urge fashion designers to tread very carefully when thinking of incorporating Buddhist imagery and references, because it might offend Buddhists not only in our country but others around the world. Attempting to promote Thai culture like this could be misinterpreted and cause more harm than good.”

Duly noted, but the argument is nevertheless at a stalemate, so let’s hear what the online multitudes are saying. They’re always so decisive. No they’re not. Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike have piled into the debate on the social media and the opinions are all over the place. The “pro-chedi-costume” position comes down to “It’s about time out national costume was more creative, fun and modern.” The anti crowd says it looks like a Halloween outfit and, yes, is quite literally in God-awful poor taste.

The funny thing about the Mrs Universe pageant is that, despite being more, uh, mature, it tends to be more liberal than the Miss Universe contest when it comes to selection criteria and the way the contenders are presented. Yui and her avant-garde golden costume might even win.

The Mrs Universe show is actually much younger than the Miss, having been launched in 2007, and its chief aim is promoting the cause of human rights. The judges choose a Miss Photogenic and Miss Congeniality, but also honour individualism and uniqueness with titles such as Mrs Sympathy, Mrs Businesswoman, Mrs Charity and Mrs Golden Heart.

Maybe Yui’s appearance this year will prompt them to add a new category – Mrs Controversial.

 

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